Despite the physical lack of trial plots, seminar marquees and machinery, Arable Scotland proved a huge success in its virtual form attracting a large audience to its alternative crop videos, webinars, question and answer sessions and digital crop tours.

The second year of this annual event which had to be cancelled in its physical form due to the Covid-19 pandemic, attracted an attendance more than double that of 2019 field day when including participation at the live Q+A events and webinars.

In all, in excess of 250 registered in advance on the Arable Scotland website and a total of 500 visited during or in the days after the event.

The event – staged in partnership with SRUC, JHI and AHDB with sponsors Hutchisons, FAS, SEFARI, Scottish Society Crop Research and The Scottish Farmer – also saw some 3000 plus use The Farming Forum to check out the Alternative Crops and Markets programme, more than 2000 looked at the Plant Heath programme, with a similar number viewing the Omnia Terra Map with Hutchinson’s.

Professor Fiona Burnett, group manager at SRUC for crop and soil systems, said the organisers were delighted at how well the event had gone, especially when growers are continuing to check out the videos, podcasts, downloads and technical info.

"It was a pleasure to work with this group of committed partners who were determined to deliver for the Arable Scotland audience in these difficult times. We’ve learnt a lot along the way – some people embrace and enjoy online delivery and it gave the event far greater geographic reach – global in fact, But not all of our audience find digital delivery easy to access or comfortable to engage with.

"Next year we are planning a welcome return to a field event, provisionally on July 1, 2021 but we hope to retain an element of virtual delivery – i.e. the best of both worlds!" she said.

Integrated pest management, (IPM) might not be the sexiest topic of conversation but it remains key to a sustainable future for the arable sector, when the industry faces increasing pressures against multiple diseases, climate change and rising fungicide costs.

Add to that the withdrawal of certain pesticides from the market, big issues with fungicide resistance in crops, changing markets and Brexit, and the industry has a lot to deal with.

However, IPM can help to alleviate several of these pressures.

"IPM is often portrayed as complex and difficult but there are a lot of easy wins," said Professor Burnett, adding that growers are already practicing the system.

"Farmers are keen to maximise the benefits of crop varietal resistance, biological control methods and extended crop rotations

"We know that producers are comfortable using fungicides at the times they are most effective and will give a yield benefit, which in wheat is targeting the upper leaf layers, while in barley it is the early sprays to protect the flag leaf.

"Producers are also comfortable in selecting varietal resistance as a tool but they are less good at modulating fungicide use to reflect that reduced risk."

She warned that earlier drilling dates and growing susceptible crops heighten the need for fungicides compared to later drilling with resistance varieties, with the former showing only a tenth of a tonne yield response compared to the latter in AHDB trials.

Commenting on the barley disease ramularia which could cause control challenges due to the loss of varietal ratings and chlorothalonil, she said that fortunately this year's dry spring meant it was not a particularly bad year for the disease. However, new chemistry as well as alternatives such as elicitors would be needed to address the issue in future.

Professor Burnett said growers were happy enough to use rotations, certified seed and varietal resistance as part of their IPM, but she added that engaging with agronomists, cereal open days and farm forums would help take their IPM to another level.

Outwith the traditional cereal crops grown in Scotland, Dr Ali Karley, research leader at the James Hutton Institute, encouraged a greater diversity of crops grown in the rotation to include peas and beans, which in turn would make UK cropping more sustainable.

However, she admitted that Scotland's shorter summers and somewhat unreliable summers meant that new varieties and management techniques were required to improve average yields.

Prof Adrian Newton of the James Hutton Institute said many barley varieties were bred in inversion tillage situations. “Yet on farm we do not always grown in these conditions but do not have the information on which varieties work well.”

He cited trials he had been involved in looking at response to tillage method in different barley varieties.

“Laureate did well in inversion situations whereas Sassy was the opposite. Sassy never topped yield in an inversion till situation but in most cases topped yield in non-inversion situations.”

He said rooting and ‘some other characteristics’ could be responsible for the difference.

On other aspects of barley breeding, Prof Newton said heritage landraces had valuable traits for low input systems such as nutrient use efficiency, early harvest and quality which could be transferred into elite or advanced lines by understanding genetic markers.

“Also old heritage lines do not suffer from manganese deficiency.”